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  • Meg Minard

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick – Salt River Rafters

Photos by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick 7555 N Pima Rd Scottsdale, AZ 85258

Salt River Rafters website

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick website

Year Opened: 2011 Capacity: 11,000


Rafting the Arizona Fall League

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is the spring training complex for the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks. It also hosts the Salt River Rafters, a baseball team in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). The Arizona Fall League is a baseball league held in the Phoenix, AZ area during Oct and Nov. In this league, MLB top prospects play to continue the development of their skills and assist with their advancement in the game.

Like many of the AFL teams, the Rafters have moved around since their inaugural season in 1992. They began as the Grand Canyon Rafters in 1992, then the Tempe Rafters from 1993-1996 and played their games at Tempe Diablo Stadium; then back to the Grand Canyon Rafters where they played at Scottsdale Stadium from 1997-2005. They became the Surprise Rafters in 2006 and through 2010 played at Surprise Stadium. The name changed to the Salt River Rafters when Salt River Fields at Talking Stick opened in 2011. The Rafters are the 2011, 2014, and 2019 Arizona Fall League champions.

Salt River Fields has beautiful landscaping inside and out, the concourses are nice and wide, and the entry and customer service are exceptional. It is a favorite for Arizona Fall League visitors and the stadium is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2021.

Food & Beverage 3

One concession stand (to the left of the entrance) is open during AFL games. It sells a chicken finger basket ($14.50), an Angus burger ($10.75), a jumbo hot dog ($5.50), nachos, fries, peanuts, popcorn, and candy ($4.50 – $6). I had a jumbo hot dog. It is jumbo but not tasty. A large Pepsi-brand fountain soda is $6.50, Gatorade, $5.50, and bottled water runs $5. A 20-ounce domestic draft beer (Miller Lite, Coors Light, Blue Moon) sells for $11.

Home Plate Concession Stand, Photo by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey

A stand-alone adult beverage kiosk sells a draft IPA, canned hard seltzers, a few Arizona canned brews, bombers, wine, and cocktails ($9 – $15). Unfortunately, Salt River Fields no longer offers a happy hour for Fall League games.

Atmosphere 4

The facility is adorned with beautiful landscaping both inside and outside. This includes cactus gardens, desert terrain, scrubby hardy bushes, and lots of rocks which are all very attractive together. The structure fits in well with its surroundings and the environment. A picturesque mountain range is seen in the distance.

The Rafters dugout and bullpen are on the third base side. The first base side gets shade early for afternoon games. By the middle of the game, almost the entire seating area is shaded. The second level suites are not used during a Rafters game. The outfield berms and concourse are closed as are some of the seating sections down the lines. Besides that, the Rafters offer open seating; feel free to sit wherever desired.

A variety of music choices is played pregame. In general, music is not loud, and fortunately minimal ‘artificial noise’ and forced music (like Clap, Clap, Clap Your Hands or the Addams Family) is played between pitches and batters. Seats closer to the field are farther from the speakers. Fans can hear the pitcher grunt when tossing a pitch, can hear crowd conversations about players past and present, and other fans’ recollections of memorable game experiences or plays witnessed. Unfortunately, music is played when the starting lineup is announced making it difficult to complete a scorecard.

The seats are plenty wide, have cup holders, and legroom is superb at Salt River Fields. Sections 112 and 212 are directly behind home plate. Nets run past the ends of the dugouts so only the last few sections are net free.

A greatly improved scoreboard now shows the lineups, line score, current pitcher and batter, the time, pitch count, and temperature. The roster and starting lineup are taped to the team shop booth on the concourse. Fans can take a photo and/or fill out their score sheet from that. The announcer does an honorable job at calling the lineup and player changes throughout the game, and the scoreboard is kept up to date with any player changes. All nicely done. You’ll see way more fans keeping score at Fall League games than at MLB or spring training games.

Clock violations (pitch and batter) and robot ump ball and strike calls are used at Salt River Fields during Rafter games.

Neighborhood 4

If you do nothing else when spending time in Scottsdale, visit the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens right across Salt River Fields’ home plate parking lot. It is a memorial to and reminder of the WWII Dec 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and remembrance to those soldiers who served and gave their lives. Columns of light form the outline of the battleship which illuminates at twilight.

The TapHouse Kitchen is 3 ½ miles from the ballpark and offers craft beers, cocktails, and diverse and delicious food dishes. And, it has happy hour specials during the week; good for visiting before an evening game at Salt River Fields.

The stadium is next to The Pavilions at Talking Stick shopping center. Plenty of chain restaurants and places before or after a Rafters game are within the shopping area: Buffalo Wild Wings (wings and beer), Angry Crab Shack (seafood), Blazin’ Mongolian BBQ (Asian – create your own stir fry), Red Robin (burgers), Filiberto’s (Mexican), and more. Fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Chipotle, Blimpies, Arby’s, and Pizza dot the shopping area.

An escape room, indoor skydiving, and one of those movie theaters that serve gourmet movie fare are other entertainment found in The Pavilions. Several golf courses are within a few miles as is the Butterfly Wonderland which is America’s largest butterfly atrium. Besides butterflies, it has a 3D theater and various insect displays. The Talking Stick Resort and Casino is just across the Loop 101, less than a three-mile drive from the ballpark.

For nearby lodgings, a Great Wolf Lodge (and water park) is across the parking lot. For rooms a bit more affordable, a Staybridge Hotel and an Independence 47 Hotel are both within walking distance (less than ½ mile). A Hampton Inn & Suite is across the Loop 101 (near the casino).

For other sports in the area, visit the other two East Valley Fall League Stadiums: Sloan Park and Scottsdale Stadium. A trip to Tempe, AZ and an ASU football, basketball, or soccer game is a tad over 10 miles from the ballpark.

Fans 3

Salt River Fields draw the largest crowds for the Fall League, averaging over 800 fans a game. The fans are retired folks, snowbirds, scouts, Dbacks fans, and supporters of the game of baseball.

Since the Rafters have a lot of Diamondback minor leaguers on the team, a large group of diehard Diamondback fans is in attendance. These fans cheer hardily for any Diamondback that comes up to the plate or when one takes the mound. However, they certainly applaud for good plays regardless of team or player.

It is easy to strike up a conversation with any visitor at a Fall League game.

Access 3

Salt River Fields is located just west of the Loop 101 Pima Fwy at the Indian Bend Rd exit. Park in the lot behind home plate off of Pima Rd as that is closest to the main entranceway. When attending an afternoon game (12:35 pm), you shouldn’t hit much traffic on Loop 101. Give yourself some extra travel time when attending an evening game (6:35 pm) during the week because of heavier rush hour traffic.

When flying in for a Rafters game, the closest airport is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (about 18 miles southwest of the stadium). Public transportation is not available for AFL Rafters games.

The concourse is wide open and fans can see all the playing action while walking it. The ease of moving around the stadium during a game is admirable, though be cautious of uneven step heights when walking up and down the seating aisles.

Wide open concourse at a Salt River Rafters game, Photo by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey

Two sets of clean and serviceable restrooms are open at Salt River Fields for a Rafters game.

Accessible parking, access, and seating options are available for those with physical disabilities, wheelchairs, or strollers. It appears the handicapped parking fills up quickly so get there early if needing one of those. Stadium management should mark more spots for those needing closer parking.

Fortunately, it is one of three AFL facilities to allow fans to bring in bags. Visitors walk through a metal detector and if the detector beeps, only then security checks the bags and carried items.

Return on Investment 3

Tickets at $9 (adult) and $7 (seniors 55+ and children 3 – 17) are a good price for seeing professional baseball. Season ticket packages for the AFL can be purchased and may be worth the investment if planning on attending more than 10 games.

There’s no charge for parking and concession prices are average.

Extras 3

On the outside of the stadium, the Keli McGregor Trail remembers the late Rockies president, Keli S. McGregor, a key contributor in bringing this ballpark complex to Scottsdale. I recommend taking a stroll down this short trail which is behind the home plate entrance.

The USS Arizona Memorial Garden is worth an extra mention and is a must-visit when attending a Rafters game.

Salt River Fields hosted the AFL All-Star and Championship games in 2021.

Final Thoughts

Get to the game early, walk around the park, have a drink and burger or sausage, and enjoy the wonderful game of baseball at a first-rate ballpark.

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